“Hey, don’t take it out on me” is a phrase I’m sure we hear quite often. Something I wasn’t aware of (and shouldn’t be surprised about either) is that the act of “taking it out on someone” actually has a name. Displacement is when you redirect your anger or frustration to someone or something other than the cause of your anger. If I screw up a test and then go home and yell at my roommates, that’s an example of displacement. If you get yelled at by your boss and then on your drive home you in turn yell at every driver on the road, that is also called displacement. Instead of ripping up the test or writing the test-writer an angry email or yelling back at your boss, you direct your anger at something that is more socially acceptable…well, most of the time.
The best example of this I could think of is from the movie “It’s A Wonderful Life.” The main character, George Bailey, is frustrated at SO many things in his life that are going wrong. Earlier that day his uncle lost $5,000 from their business that he was supposed to deposit, and George found out he could lose his job and potentially go to jail…losing his home, family, and reputation as well. So what does he do? He goes home and yells at his children. They were not the source of his anger, but he has displaced his frustration and that is why he yells.
That scene doesn’t quite make it to the part where he really YELLS at his kids, but you can definitely see that he is starting to take his frustration out on them. Sometimes it is hard for us to not displace our anger… and sometimes displacing our anger to someone or something other than the true cause is more socially acceptable. That’s why we do it.
We just need to be careful when we do.